Day At The Track

Everything’s coming up Rosie Huff!

07:52 AM 16 Apr 2017 NZST
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Rosie Huff, harness racing Rosie Huff, harness racing R I P Spanky, harness racing
Rosie Huff at her desk at the FSBOA office
Jessica Hallett photo
Left to right are Rosie Huff, Jean Emerson and Jane Murray at the 2012 Dan Patch Awards
Mark Hall/USTA photo
Rosie Huff, husband Jake and the boys (far right) in the winner's circle after Rosie's horse won it's maiden race.
Skip Smith photo

Pompano Beach, FL - Harness racing gets its name from the fast-paced beating of hooves and crowds cheering as the thundering hooves pound towards the finish line.

Although the talented horses steal the spotlight, accentuated by the roar of the fans, the real action is orchestrated behind the scenes, beginning in the early hours of the morning before the first beam of sunlight and often ending in the deepest and darkest of the night.

At the center of it all, the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association (FSBOA) holds the key that unlocks the magic that hits the racetrack every race night. They represent and assist the horsemen and women who work at the track including owners, breeders, trainers, drivers and grooms.  

And currently running the office at Pompano Park is a New York bred woman raised into the harness racing sport, Rosie Huff.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Rosie was one of four children in the Villante family.

 At the age of 10, her father, Vincenzo Villante, moved to Englishtown, New Jersey in hopes of finding more work as a bricklayer.

Buying seven acres of land, Vincenzo built a home next door to his brother, Joe Villante, who, of course, was Rosie’s uncle.

At that time, Joe owned riding horses; however, he later transitioned into owning Standardbreds. Pete Villante, another uncle, had owned and been racing Standardbreds. Already riding horses for most of her time in New Jersey, Rosie would begin to learn the basics of the Standardbred racing industry from her uncles.

 Her teenage years marked the era she would begin training and jogging horses, signifying the years of her first arrival into the business.

Raised in New Jersey, Rosie migrated south to Florida in the summer of 1982 and worked as a caretaker for her uncle Pete at the South Florida Trotting Center and, on occasion, traveling up to the Meadowlands Racetrack on occasion until August, 1983.

At this time, Rosie moved to Freehold Raceway to work for her uncle Joe before subsequently becoming a “free-lance” caretaker for many top Stables, including the Caraluzzi-McNichol Stable and Ray Vaughn-Thomas.

 From 1991 to 1994, Rosie worked for the legendary Stanley Dancer, working with many world class stakes horses, including Lifelong Victory, At The Top and Donerail.

While working for Stanley Dancer, Rosie found a new love while on her way to the track for a jogging session—and it was not a horse!

From the seat of the jog cart, Rosie spotted a fresh face on the racetrack and, as she said, “it was love at first site” The mystery man was identified as Jake Huff, who shipped in the night before and worked for Gordon Norris.

Day after day, Rosie worked in the barn stabled close to Jake, but she didn’t have the nerve to strike up a conversation.

One night, though, March 7, 1993, she worked up the courage to have a talk with him.

That initial talk turned into a love affair which blossomed over the years as Rosie and Jake moved to Michigan, taking positions in the Gordon Norris Stable.

Three years from that first March 7 encounter, Rosie and Jake were married in Maui, Hawaii in 1996.

Soon after, the Huff family began to grow with first-born, Ronnie, entering the world on February 1, 2000 and brother Ryan joining the family on July 11, 2001.

 After working for Gordon Norris for two years, Rosie had to stop working with the horses due to her health.

“It practically killed me to stop working with the horses, but it was a necessity for health reasons,” she lamented.

 But, finally, there was a light at the end of the tunnel as Rosie discovered a position available at the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association (FSBOA) in 1997.

 Rosie approached Jay Sears, the president of the association, to conduct a plan of action to work part time in the FSBOA on a trial basis.

With the help of Jim Ripoll showing her the ropes, she was able to continue the job full time.  

She then worked full time until 2000, when she took a leave of absence to assume her new role as a mother.

In 2004, Rosie resumed working for the FSBOA under Jane Murray and, to this very day, she is seen as a critical part of the success of that organization.

When asked about her daily routine at the office, Rosie related that it's anything but a “routine.”

“Every day is different for me,” Rosie said. “The only thing that is constant is the time the alarm clock goes off -- 5:15 a.m.

“After getting the kids (Ronnie and Ryan) off to start their day, I am usually at the office by 7:30.

“There is never a day when there aren't challenges, whether it be helping our horsemen and women with the insurance programs the FSBOA administers or helping with the draw, if necessary, or taking care of the stakes program and our breeding program or making sure that all Florida Bred horses are eligible to our stakes program.

“If there is a special race going on, I have to be at the races to present blankets and make presentations---it's never ending, but it's a great never ending!”

“It can be very challenging at times, however, it's a challenge that I love.”

Of course, that is only a fraction of Rosie's daily routine.

“Sometimes, it seems like there is not enough hours in the day when it comes to balancing work and the family.

“My kids are very active in sports---a lot of sports---from wrestling and football to bowling and baseball.

“There is practice to take care of, games to attend and, of course, mouths to feed and, as a parent, making sure that homework is done.

“I'm lucky to get four or five hours of rest a day.”

Rosie has been honored along the way for her great service to the horsemen and women in Florida. In 2008 she was awarded the Frances Dodge Van Lennap award and in 2016 was made an honorary member (only the second one ever in 26 years) of the Florida Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association.

Rosie and Jake Huff continue to be prominent players in harness racing with Jake one of the most respected trainers in the sport and Rosie participating in the training of the Florida youngsters when not administering the FSBOA’s Stakes programs and insurance coverage for the horsemen and women in Florida.

As Hall of Fame journalist John Berry says, “Rosie is one of those rare individuals that can play ‘every instrument in the orchestra’ when it comes to the sport of harness racing. She is indeed, irreplaceable!”

By Jessica Hallett, for Harnesslink  

This is Jessica Hallett's first professional story as she is a new correspondent for Harnesslink. Jessica, 17, lives in Margate, Florida and is currently a senior at Deerfield Beach High School. She is the daughter of Pompano Park owner/trainers John and Michelle Hallett.

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